May 30, 2024, 06:25AM

Jules Was Always Skittish About Sex

Tapes to maybe, maybe witness people feeling something.

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A few months after the divorce was official, Jules watched pornography for the first time. September, 1986. He was a 46-year-old man, living with his 14-year-old daughter, sneaking around late at night, or whenever he might find himself home alone, discovering sex on VHS tapes.

Jules was always skittish about sex. His parents didn’t seem to acknowledge they even had bodies. They were duty-bound workers. Philip always seemed exhausted.  Nina sat at the kitchen table, calming herself with Pall Malls or Lucky Strikes. Philip eventually took the boys to the JCC on the weekends after the doctor informed him he needed exercise or he might have a heart attack. As far as Jules knew, his parents never had sex. The three boys might as well have been conceived in a lab experiment. Sex was not discussed in their family home. Jules’ brother Morty was the only one who even seemed interested in pursuing it.

Now in middle-age, the discovery of pornography was a strange development in Jules’ rather routinized life. The videos aroused him and he masturbated. After he'd flushed the tissues down, the feeling that lingered was usually a mild sense of guilt. Jules lived with Reva, a teenager. Reva kept her own curiosity around sex a secret. With Lisa across the ocean, somewhere tucked into the Spanish countryside or some Barcelona hotel, Reva became even more controlled and careful. She was filled with self-doubt, despite her growing beauty.

Jules' conscience occasionally plagued him. He drove to a neighboring town at night to avoid being seen by friends, neighbors or even acquaintances. The only store with an "Adult” section. Every time Jules entered the store, one teenage employee seemed to be asking an elder co-workers about films. They’d ignore Jules as he skulked over to the back of the store, with its ridiculous red curtain, hiding the illicit boxes from public view.

The employees might be chatting with each other about the latest John Waters cult hit, or a horror film that had just taken over the underground circuit. Instead of perusing those, Jules browsed in the "Adult" section. He felt that somehow this situation meant that he was becoming a creepy middle-aged man. At times, self-reflection was torture. The teenage boy lurking inside the creepy middle-aged Jules enjoyed the thrill of being “bad.” According to his parents, his teachers and almost any adult in his community, Jules had almost always been a "good" boy. His minor thefts had always gone undetected.

“Well, I’m not perfect!” thought Jules, yelling out to his newly-deceased mother, holding a box that displayed an Asian woman in fishnet stockings, black high heels, and nothing else. She was holding a black leather whip in one hand.

The walk back to the front desk, was especially nerve-wracking to Jules. He avoided eye contact with anyone, sticking to the walls of the store, pretending to browse in the “Family” section and then the “International” films, before finally reaching the desk. He carried the clear plastic container with the black VHS tape inside to the desk. “Last name?” the employee asked. “Green,” Jules said, staring with unnecessary determination at the chipped yellow counter. “$2.99,” said the kid, with what Jules thought was a smirk. Jules slid a $5 bill over the counter. Two dollars slid back his way. The video was now safe in its plastic bag. Jules speed-walked back to his car. The mission was complete.

He watched the tapes, like most people, to have an orgasm. But there were times he realized he might’ve watched the pornography for other reasons. Maybe to witness people feeling something. To witness desire, or the stylized, manufactured version for the camera. Lust wasn't something Jules had ever easily indulged in.

Jules hoped to find another woman. He imagined developing a connection over dinners and conversation, and then, possibly, having sex on a couch or in a bed with this woman. Maybe eventually make love again.

The idea of being with someone new was enticing, but Jules simply wasn’t ready to date. His circle of friends had shrunk over the years. He didn't meet enough new people through work or have enough activities. Parenting and managing the turbulence of Lisa had become his non-work activities. Occasionally writing out his dreams or agonies through stories that few ever saw. Jules had become a middle-aged man, seemingly overnight. Jules guessed that was the way middle-age worked.


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